(CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union sued a Kansas county election official in federal court Friday, alleging that her moving of Dodge City’s only polling location to a site half a mile outside of the city’s southern border creates a burden on the city’s majority Hispanic population.
Dodge City, located in southwest Kansas about 160 miles west of Wichita, only has one polling location for a population of 27,000. Ford County Clerk Deborah Cox moved it from the town’s civic center to an expo center that is only accessible by crossing a state highway, with no bus routes or sidewalks.
The ACLU filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order asking the federal court to order Cox reopen the civic center as a polling site, which was used as recently as this summer for the state primary elections.
The complaint asks to reopen the old site “to avert voter confusion since many registrants received a notice from the Defendant directing them to vote at the Civic Center on November 6th.”
Cox has previously said that she moved the polling location due to road construction work being performed near the civic center and that she feared for peoples’ safety.
“We think this is outrageous,” said Micah Kubic, ACLU of Kansas executive director in a prepared statement. “We understand that there are people who believe voting is a privilege but we don’t. It is a right that must be fiercely protected. We can and must do better.”
Filed on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens and high school student Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, the ACLU contends that a large percentage of the city’s Hispanic residents are living in poverty and may not have easy access to the new site since it isn’t accessible by public transportation.
“Hispanic voters are overrepresented amongst Doge City residents who are burdened by the by the single, inaccessible polling location,” the complaint states. “For voters who rely on public transportation, the new polling location increases the time they must spend travelling to and from voting site by at least three hours.”
Dodge City, like a lot of western Kansas towns, is home to agricultural industrial businesses such as meatpacking plants and food distributors, places that rely on immigrant labor.
According to emails obtained by the Wichita Eagle, after the ACLU wrote to Cox to object the new polling site, Cox forwarded a later ACLU letter asking her to advertise a voter help line to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office, writing at the top, “LOL.”
In an interview with the Eagle, she said she didn’t mean anything by the phrase and it was “not done with any racial intention at all.”
A call to Cox’s office for comment went unreturned after business hours Friday.
The lawsuit also calls for the county to open more polling locations.
Since the 1990’s, Dodge City has only had one polling location after it closed seven others in order to avoid Americans With Disabilities violations from buildings that were not up to code. Since then, according to the lawsuit, Cox has refused to open more sites, citing difficulty hiring poll workers.
Earlier in the week, Dodge City Mayor Kent Smoll announced on Facebook that the city would provide residents free rides to the expo center. Additionally, the Kansas Democratic Party announced it was recruiting volunteers to drive people to the site.